(This story was published in 2006).

Openly gay tennis great Billie Jean King, 63, has long been an inspiration for gay athletes. Named by Life magazine one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century,” King, a seven-time Wimbledon champion, has been one of the most decorated out athletes since she came out in 1981. But King’s presence has been largely missing from gay-sports organizations and events.

Not so anymore. King has endorsed the 2006 Gay Games, throwing support behind the event as a Gay Games Ambassador.

Now, she’s teaming up with RainbowVision, a company developing full-service resort communities targeting gay seniors. The company has been building a community in Santa Fe, N.M., which is slated to open June 10 of this year. Ground-breaking for a second community in Palm Springs, Calif., is scheduled for 2007.

When King decided to join the project, she said on a Tuesday, March 23 conference call, she insisted that she not just be a spokesperson but an active participant in the development of the communities. King has leant her name and expertise to the Billie Jean King Fitness Center and Spa at the Santa Fe property and is designing a tennis facility for the Palm Springs community.

“RainbowVision is opening new doors for LGBT Americans entering their second 50 years,” said King. “It’s an honor to be part of Joy Silver’s vision and of a project that creates communities of equality where people can be themselves, live life to the fullest, and age with style.”

When asked if she might end up living at one of the properties, King said she wasn’t quite ready to transition to her twilight years, but said that Palm Springs might be the perfect fit since she’s a part owner of the Indian Wells tennis tournament.

“I’m a California girl and I love the desert,” she added.

King said her participation with the Gay Games and RainbowVision reflects a growing interest on her part to join organizations and events that reach and affect gay athletes.

“I think it’s important that gay athletes,” King said, “we need to be visible. For all of us, it’s a different journey and it’s not easy. The only way I can make a difference is to get out there and be visible.”

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